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First All Blacks squad mainly based on reputation and potential

By Ben Smith
Scott Barrett looks on during the New Zealand All Blacks 2024 season launch at NZCIS on June 26, 2024 in Upper Hutt, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Form has been thrown out the window as Scott Robertson and his selectors in the first All Blacks squad of 2024.

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The selections send a message that perhaps their was more to be had from a team that finished 4-10 on the year and missed the Oprah-style Super Rugby playoffs where nearly everyone gets a run.

It’s hard to argue a bunch of these picks were not made on reputation. Forget the 12-2 Hurricanes and the 12-2 Blues, two of the most powerful packs in New Zealand, the All Blacks have loaded up on Crusaders forwards.

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Just three Hurricanes from this season made the squad, four including World Player of the Year Ardie Savea, who played out the season in Japan.

There was no room for Xavier Numia, an anchor of the dominant Canes’ scrum, but supersized Pasilio Tosi who spent most the season on the bench got the call.

No 8 Braydon Iose, a ball-carrying force, and openside Peter Lakai, statistically speaking one of the hardest men to tackle in Super Rugby, were surplus to requirements.

However, the All Blacks pack can’t be built on all carry and no clean. There was always going to be a squeeze in the loose forwards with a surplus of quality No 8 options around the country.

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But for the Blues, who focused their entire plan around their front eight and stormed home to their first championship since 2003, registered just three selections up front.

The unofficial MVP of the season, Hoskins Sotutu, didn’t do enough to earn a recall and perhaps his role at the Blues just isn’t what the selectors want. Instead, firebrand rookie Wallace Sititi from the Chiefs will get a run.

Blindside flanker Akira Ioane, who announced his departure from New Zealand before the season’s end, was probably an early scratch.

Hooker Ricky Riccitelli, a servant of New Zealand rugby and a key cog of the Blues pack, couldn’t get a look in but young Crusaders’ hooker George Bell got the nod.

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No disrespect to George Bell but this selection isn’t made on form or reputation but potential. His lineout throwing in the early stages of the season was catastrophic, with the Crusaders operating at sub-60 per cent and below in some games.

God save New Zealand if Bell is called upon to throw for the All Blacks this year.

The coaching staff are wise enough to hand the apprentice hooker the tackle bags, and Bell is likely a future pick. But if injury strikes and Bell is sent in, Robertson better have a magic potion to cure that throw.

If the All Blacks needed a job to done, Riccitelli should have been picked over Bell.

The other big gamble that the All Blacks have taken is that there is only one goal kicker that is kicking above 80 per cent.

Damian McKenzie was slotting 85 this season and at Test level this matters greatly. The next best was Brett Cameron who didn’t get a shot.

The other two 10s, Beauden Barrett and Stephen Perofeta, will cause angst if they have to line up a game-winning kick.

Stephen Perofeta in particular cannot be given the tee with a sub-60 success rate. It will simply cost the All Blacks Test matches if he continues his Super form.

Beauden Barrett seemed to give up on the goal kicking years ago, handing the tee to Richie Mo’unga and younger brother Jordie once he moved to fullback.

So that leaves Jordie as the man who will take over if McKenzie is subbed off the field. If McKenzie of Jordie Barrett are off, the All Blacks better be scoring plenty of tries.

Razor is a head coach who has earnt blind trust based on his results, so it doesn’t really matter who was or wasn’t picked in the end. A squad picked mainly on reputation with Robertson in charge should still win.

This All Blacks side has plenty of experience, it’s just not built with the backbone of the championship-winning team from this year.

Former England flyhalf Freddie Burns’ main theory for pumping England’s chances was that the All Blacks would suffer as the Crusaders have fallen.

We will find out if that theory has legs with more Crusaders selections than deserved.

Watch the exclusive reveal-all episode of Walk the Talk with Ardie Savea as he chats to Jim Hamilton about the RWC 2023 experience, life in Japan, playing for the All Blacks and what the future holds. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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Comments

18 Comments
H
Haunui 21 days ago

This article appears to be by someone who doesnt really follow NZ rugby

W
Willie 21 days ago

Hey Ben. Your homograph use of the word” their” is incorrect -The selections send a message that perhaps their was more to be had from a team.

S
SonnyG 22 days ago

Leaving the questionable calls he’s made here aside for the moment - how the hell did the article get published in this state? For someone criticising errors and success rates this article has mistakes a 10 year old wouldn’t make let alone a professional writer.

J
Jon 22 days ago

Yes, Ben, this must be your first time seeing a squad be named.

L
Liam 22 days ago

Moronic article. Numia was injured, cant be picked. Akira overseas cant be picked. The crusaders pack beat the blues in the final weeks. And current ABs always carry selection weight for experience. No context rubbish.

A
Andrew 22 days ago

Numua wasnt picked because he’s injured. You didnt know that?

B
Bruiser 22 days ago

Would like to have seen Sotutu and Akhai ahead of Blackadder. Blackadder doesnt have the X factor and injury prone

J
Jen 22 days ago

I think I’m going to give up reading media on rugby for a while. It’s all moaning and negativity and they haven’t even played a game yet. First they want Fozzie out and now they don’t like Razor’s first picks. Crikey, it would be a hard road being a coach or pro player in this modern environment. I think the English media is sounding more positive about their team.

T
T-Bone 22 days ago

Razor knows what he’s doing
Yes the crusaders had a rough year but when key all blacks came back they won the forwards battle over the much improved Blues with Blackadder fantastic

Surely these guys know Numia is injured and there has been enough objective analysis on Sotutu
Sheesh Ben and Gregor have been writing each others work

In saying that there is massive pressure on those Crusaders forwards to perform although Bell is a shocker

There are probably only two to start in Taylor and Barrett and Blackadder perhaps off the bench and the powerfully Newell and Williams
Although Tosi or Ofa might make the bench

L
Longshanks 22 days ago

Pretty sure Xavier Numia is injured for a start. It’s the first squad of the year , lots of games to come. Apart from George Bell which Crusaders should have been left out?

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finn 5 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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